Rob Neyer references famous baseball writer Tom Boswell in discussing how risky it is to pick pitchers with the number one amateur draft pick. Here’s the Reds’ first round draft history.

Only one pitcher in the last six years (Homer Bailey), but four of the previous five, and six of the previous eight years were pitchers. We’re just now starting to get real production out of our draft selections.

When it comes to “figuring it out” as players age, that seems to apply to pitchers more than hitters. And, for pitchers, it usually comes to working out a new pitch or a new grip that breaks oddly. Baseball Prospectus used to say there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, and that every successful young pitcher will need to go through his requisite surgery before arriving. Bill James says that hitters can usually be projected, but it seems the star prospect pitchers don’t seem to make it, while the successful ones seem to come out of nowhere.

Meanwhile, our minor league strength is now hitters, specifically at third base. Do we draft a pitcher this year? The draft is less than a month away.

20 Responses

  1. brublejr

    Need to draft a power OF bat…pitching always helps, but little OF power on the farm.

  2. rusty

    id draft best player available. if its a pitcher then so be it but that high in the draft its not safe to reach for a position of need with the money involved in the draft picks these days

  3. Steve Price

    Facts say drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all…just throwing away the money…kind of like drafting a catcher in first round..oh, we did that, too

  4. wanderinredsfan

    I’d draft the best possible position player, unless his name is Strasburg. I’d especially concentrate on a SS. Hopefully, Green (SS) will be there by the time the Reds pick, but I highly doubt it.

  5. Matt Steele

    in baseball especially I don’t think you should worry about position, especially in the early rounds. Take the best available talent whether it be pitcher or position player. Boswell points out that no first round pitcher has ever made the HOF and that’s fine, but I don’t think we’re really looking/expecting for a HOFer anyway.

  6. Dan

    Steve, “Facts say drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all”???

    That’s a pretty extreme statement you can’t possibly back up, but… I’m curious how you would try to support that argument?

  7. David

    I’ve seen projections going with either Aaron Crow (RHP) or Kyle Gibson (RHP). I disagree with drafting a pitcher.

    They have too many 3B (Soto, Francisco) and too many corner OFs in the system (Francisco, Dorn, Frazier). This doesn’t take into account Votto moving to 3B or LF (my guess is 3B with Francisco/Frazier in LF) if/when Alonso comes up. None of these guys are really projected at SS/2B, and I’m not sold that either Valaika or Frazier end up at SS or 2B long term.

    I’d love to go after a 2B/SS. Grant Green is a good blue chipper and projects as a 2B (though he plays SS) because of limited arm strength and range. Robbie Shields is similar to Green in that he has all the offensive tools but no defense which pushes him to 2B.

    I am a huge fan of Jiovanni Mier (verbal commit to USC) as he is the best pure SS propsect. 8 is way to high and he could fall to 43. He would be a great pickup there if he falls that far.

    To project, I’m going 1) Kyle Gibson 1B) Jiovanni Mier

  8. David

    I’d love to hear Doug’s thoughts.

  9. Steve Price

    quote from above:

    Steve, “Facts say drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all”???

    That’s a pretty extreme statement you can’t possibly back up, but… I’m curious how you would try to support that argument?

    Did you read any of the sources that I provided? Rob Neyer’s info, Tom Boswell’s info, the Reds’ draft history, Baseball Prospectus, Bill James.

    That’s pretty much a full library…

  10. Dan

    I read the Neyer article, and I skimmed the 1st round draft history of ONE out of the 30 teams (our beloved Reds).

    I also read Baseball Prospectus all the time. (You didn’t really provide them as a source, you just tried to summarize what they say into one generalized statement that I don’t agree with anyway. I’ve never read anyone there saying that “every successful young pitcher will need to go through his requisite surgery before arriving.”)

    Your summary of Bill James was similarly sweeping and general.

    There’s a good point in here, but it’s a difficult and nuanced point. Pitchers are riskier and more uncertain than hitters. I’ll agree w/ that. I think that’s the point you’re trying to get to.

    When you say stuff like “Facts say that drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all” you just mess up the point with a sweeping generality that is silly and dead wrong.

    I like the point you’re after here. It’s a good one to debate. I just get annoyed w/ the generalizations that aren’t fair.

  11. Steve Price

    Well, it’s not silly and dead wrong…

    1. It’s not a generalization as the Boswell article (and Neyer) discuss. In fact, Boswell went 10 rounds deep in his analysis. These “ten” rounds, are the first ten picks of the 1st round of the draft.

    2. I did mention Baseball Prospectus in the original posting. I did summarize them, because it has been a mantra of their’s for a decade. If you read their books, they used to just say “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.” In fact, they used to just use the “acronym: of TNSTAAPP” in their books. They’ve backed off that strong assertion a bit, and now typically say (if you read their individual analysis of young pitchers) they are the usual “one surgery away from being a factor.”

    3. I think the Reds’ draft history of pitchers speaks volumes in and of it self. (Howington, Gruler, Sowers, Wagner, Tomko, Nitkowski, Armstrong, Scudder, Pacillo, Scott Jones)…those are ten of the team’s draft picks from 1982-2005, one s that can be measured. The position players…Bruce, David Espinosa, Kearns, Larson, Joe Oliver, Pat Watkins, Mottola, Reese, Dan Wilson, Branson, Larkin, Stilwell).

    4. I quoted the Bill James article just the other day. On his website, he was asked whether he would trade Adam Dunn for David Price. His answer (I quoted this on Redleg Nation just the other day):

    ” College stats and minor league stats both have some predictive value for major league pitchers, but not a great deal. The fact is that most young pitchers who look like they will be sensational, aren’t. A few are. Most aren’t. So. . .If it’s me, I’m not trading Adam Dunn for any young pitcher, even up.”

    5. As for debate, what’s the evidence to the contrary?

    I suppose it’s a high risk, high reward question?

  12. Matt WI

    An admittedly quick scan of of some pitchers (current and past) who were first or second round picks:
    Tim Lincecum, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson (second round), Barry Zito, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Paul Maholm, CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett, Greg Maddux (second round), Ben Sheets, Chris Carpenter, Homer Bailey (of course).

    I know this is a pebble in an ocean of draft picks, and perhaps it’s a case of “exception proves the rule.” I’ve not read James in this area… does he show true statistical signifance (say at a standard .05 level in comparing the different positions) in making these statements? Or is it more of trend analysis or that pitchers don’t make it “X%” more of the time while not being statistically significant?

    My feeling is that pitchers are like QB’s in the NFL. They’re the sexy pick (and generally the most valuable member of the team) but not necessarily needed in the first round… and an economically savy club can get similar results in round three or four. But, does this necessarily exclude picking a pitcher if he’s rated as best available? Good stuff.

  13. Matt WI

    And, I think no matter what position, there’s something to be said for the human element of things. I don’t mean drafting someone because they fulfill some other baseball stereotype of size or radar number, but to the point that your scouts are open minded and say “I saw him, I like him, he’s our guy.” It’s why they still play the games instead of using projected numbers. Stuff happens.

  14. Chris

    Steve, I share the confusion with this statement:

    “Facts say drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all”

    *Some pitchers are good.
    *The majority of pitchers come from the draft.
    *Therefore, never drafting a pitcher would be significantly worse than not drafting at all.

    Yeah, that’s a reductionist and obvious statement, but I (and a few others it appears) are missing the nuance. Is it limited to the first round? First 10 rounds? What’s the smart alternative to drafting pitchers?

  15. Chris

    To clarify, I’m saying that MY third bullet point was the reductionist statement.

  16. Steve Price

    Boswell was referring to the 1st 10 picks of the draft, not full team rounds.

    By nearly all statistical analysis, hitters are easier to project than pitchers.

    College pitchers are easier to predict than high school pitchers.

    James says most pitchers that look good, aren’t good, but some are. Odds are higher with hitters.

    Billy Beane says college pitchers project better than high school pitchers.

    Lincecom is said to be an arm injury waiting to happen, a la Mark Prior.

    Bailey it too early to tell.

    Johnson and Maddox were second rounders.

    Pitchers get hurt more often than hitters (the expected injury commment–Sheets, Carpenter). Or, somehow lose it…Zito, for example.

    Neyer’s comment:

    Strasburg might be the best college pitcher in the history of college pitchers, and the next guy might be just the eighth-best college first baseman in the history of college first basemen. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t take the first baseman. If the college first baseman actually has a better chance of helping you win baseball games for five or six years, then you probably should take the first baseman.

    But of course there’s even more. What if Strasburg is five percent more likely to help you win, but will cost you 100 percent more to sign? Do you take him anyway?


    So, Strasberg may be the exception. There’s exceptions to every rule.

    Can the Reds afford to be the exception that fails? In our recent draft history, we’ve more times than not, tried to go the pitcher route…it hasn’t worked…so we drafted a catcher another year, which is supposed to be another failed philosophy.

    What’s the definition of insanity? Trying the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result?

    WE need middle infielders and power hitters.

  17. Dan

    OK, Steve, I’m much more on board w/ your last set of comments. That was my point exactly — drafting a pitcher is RISKY. Much riskier than drafting a hitter. But it doesn’t mean you toss out the idea entirely. You just do your best to evaluate the risk.

    To say that “drafting a pitcher is pretty much like not drafting at all” is like saying pitchers NEVER EVER work out. That’s what’s “silly and dead wrong.” It’s not that simple and black-and-white.

    Same with your original paraphrase of Baseball Prospectus (“every successful young pitcher will need to go through his requisite surgery before arriving.”) That’s not true. It’s not EVERY pitcher, and would’ve never said that. It IS true that they’re riskier, and I’m sure there’s a higher probability that a pitcher you draft will someday need surgery than a hitter.

    Pitchers are riskier, yes. I agree. I just didn’t like how general and absolute some of your statements were.

    So the debate that’s interesting (I think) is, which pitchers are worth the risk? How do you know?

  18. Dan

    The title of Neyer’s article says it all, actually. He called it “When drafting pitchers, beware.” He didn’t call it “Don’t ever draft a pitcher, dumbass!”

    It’s “be careful” rather than “don’t ever do it.”

  19. Steve Price

    Probably based on team status….I don’t think we have the team stability to take risks…I’d rather fill in that gap with a free agent.

    I agree with your comments…not enough space to write all the specifics…

  20. Dan

    I don’t hear many people saying that Lincecum is an arm injury waiting to happen anymore. They said that on draft day, and we 9 or 10 teams (including the Reds – Stubbs) passed on him. But I think more people now think that he is just a freak with a very unorthodox delivery and might actually work and might actually (mostly) keep him healthy.

    By the way, I very strongly disagree w/ making a 1st round draft pick based on what the system needs. I think you take the best guy available.

    I mean, you obviously have to factor in what’s harder to find (pitching, catching, CF, middle infield) and what’s easier to come by (1B, 3B, LF, RF).

    But in the 1st round, I think you just take the best player you can.

    You’ve got 49 more rounds (or whatever the number is) to fill in gaps in the system.